From the November 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard
In 1931 the Socialist Party of New Zealand was founded; by January 1934 they had launched their official journal. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the formation of the SPNZ, we are publishing an article from the current issue of their journal, Socialist Viewpoint.
On July 16, 1969, the quiet of Cape Kennedy space centre was shattered as a giant white and silver pencil-shaped rocket blasted the silo below its huge rocket motors with 7.5 million pounds of thrust. The 97,000-pound spacecraft lifted out of its own inferno of searing flames and smoke and trailing an almost white fiery tail it accelerated without faltering, out of the earth’s atmosphere and into the history books. Carrying its contents into space and eventually onto the moon, Apollo II made a reality out of what had been up to then the stuff of science fiction. As the 363 ft. rocket disappeared into the waiting void of space, the smoke and debris blasted high by the monstrous force of man's most powerful engines started to settle back onto the earth’s surface.
In 1969, as now, this earth was a place of puzzling contrasts. In the dense jungles of South America, in parts of Africa and in other areas of the earth, people no different biologically to the three high in the nose of the rocket lived in varying stages of primitive communism, much as they had for thousands of years. As Neil Armstrong, Mike Collins and Buzz Aldrin settled down to the routines which would eventually lead to a moon landing, primitive people pursued the rigid routine of survival using tools which their primitive technology and environment had given them. Between them and the white pencil of light which crossed unseen above them in the heavens, lay the historical path along which humans of modern society had passed. Apollo II represented within its building a blend of every science and technology so far known. Even the smallest nut and bolt used in its construction has concealed within it the mental and physical labours of thousands of people, the diverse technology of metallurgy mechanics and complex production techniques. Apollo represented as it carved its path out of the atmosphere the crowning achievement of the division of labour. Without this division of labour and the productive forces arranged around it, we would still be looking at the moon in wonder instead of walking on it.
Since that moon landing space exploration has continued and although at times it comes under the scrutiny of Congress with the purpose of reviewing its allocations, it continues to survive and its major programmes continue. Because space exploration is closely allied to military developments, its continuance is assured. The disturbing fact is that space research is really only the cream on a very ugly cake. That cake is the horrific development of the most technical means devised to lay waste our environment and our species.
Behind the shining suits of the astronauts and the beaming smiles of the recently returned, lies the dreadful reality of the missiles, the bombs, the spy satellites. Possibly for the sake of our sanity what else is circulating over our skies is left to our imagination. Recently with the successful launching and landing of the space shuttle the exploration of our solar system has become a distinct possibility. But is this the reason for the development of such a craft? It would appear that as before the major drive behind the development of a re-usable cargo carrying craft is the construction of an orbiting fully manned military space station. Both America and Russia are pursuing this end with great determination.
British scientist Sir Bernard Lovell, director of radio astronomy at Jodrell Bank, has something to say on the development of space platforms.
It’s true that over the next two decades space technology in both the USA and in Russia will make possible the development of very large space platforms, in particular it has been suggested that such platforms might beam down solar energy to Earth. It may well be that such devices will enable us in part to overcome the energy crisis that currently faces mankind. But it would be naive to see such expensive schemes purely in terms of the peaceful use of solar energy. Many experts take the view that to develop solar power satellites would be foolish because it would be far easier to collect the power on earth. They miss the point—whether or not it is economical for power, it is likely to be done because the satellites have military potential.
(Encyclopaedia of Space Travel and Astronomy)
Like other potentially worthwhile developments under capitalism the space shuttle will return very little of its amazing possibilities to the inhabitants of Earth until the social system that uses it is dramatically changed. Our technical progress over the last 200 years is indeed dramatic when viewed against our long history. Today the human species is no longer dominated by the forces of gravity and its exploitable environment has expanded dramatically as a result. In all spheres of science, knowledge is expanding at an unprecedented rate. As it expands however, it is hampered and restricted by the retarding effects that capitalism imposes upon its uses. Stunted by a social system which cannot cope with the high surpluses modern science and production can offer, the uses of the most amazing of our developments are confined to the mediocre role of maintaining the present divisions within society.
To those who are amazed and enthralled by the recent discoveries of our space environment, it must be realised that as long as capitalism remains on earth, its rockets, its space stations, its whole space technology will be used as a means to solve the problems thrown up in the competitive struggle for markets by the major powers. That is, as the ultimate weapons of war.